Little Bits of History

Greenbriar Ghost

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 23, 2011

Zona Heaster Shue, murder victim

January 23, 1897: Elva Zona Heaster is found dead in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Zona was born some time around 1873 and had a child out of wedlock in 1895. In October 1896, she met Erasmus (aka Edward) Shue. He had moved to Greenbrier looking for work as a blacksmith. They soon married over the protestations of Zona’s mother, Mary, who did not care for her new son-in-law. On this day, Zona’s body was discovered by a boy who had been sent to the house by Shue. Zona was found lying at the foot of bed, stretched out and with her feet together and one hand on her stomach.

The boy ran to his mother who called the local doctor and coroner, George Knapp. It took more than an hour for the doctor to arrive and by that time, Shue had come back home and moved the body, washing and dressing the corpse (a job usually handled by the women of the community). The doctor did not wish to intrude on the new husband’s grief and only briefly examined the body. Knapp did note some bruising around the neck, but Shue’s violent reaction to closer examination led the doctor to cease and desist. Zona’s death was attributed to “everlasting faint” and later changed to “childbirth” although it is not known if she was pregnant at her death or shortly before. She was buried on January 24.

It wasn’t long before Zona appeared as a ghost to her mother. She described a terrible death and told her mother exactly  how she was murdered. Zona told her mother things she would have had no other means of finding out, according to legend. Mary went to the authorities and convinced them to exhume Zona’s body. After a thorough medical examination, it was found that Zona’s neck had been broken and the cause of death was changed along with bringing a charge of murder.

As the preparations for the trial were underway, more information about Shue came to light. He had been married twice before with his first wife getting a divorce on the ground of great cruelty while his second wife died under mysterious circumstance less than a year after they were married. Shue had been heard saying he wished to marry seven women; Zona had been number three. The trial brought only facts in the case and the ghostly sightings were not brought out at first. Mary never wavered under cross-examination about the visits from her daughter. Shue was found guilty and sent to prison for life. He died in 1900, the victim of some epidemic running through the prison.

“Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer.” – from a state historical marker near where Zona Heaster Shue is buried

“The devil had killed her.” – Mary Heaster, upon hearing of her daughter’s death

“They cannot prove that I did it.” – Edward Shue upon hearing the news his wife had been murdered

“A ghost is someone who hasn’t made it – in other words, who died, and they don’t know they’re dead. So they keep walking around and thinking that you’re inhabiting their – let’s say, their domain. So they’re aggravated with you.” – Sylvia Browne

Also on this day:
Shaanxi Earthquake – In 1556, the deadliest earthquake on record strikes central China.
Ming Dynasty – In 1368, the Ming Dynasty began.